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Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea oppose neutral venues - sources

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling insists that player and staff safety is the priority when football returns.
Newcastle United loanee Danny Rose voices his disapproval of the Premier League season resuming during the pandemic.
Gab Marcotti explains why the Premier League is pushing for closed-door home matches when the season resumes.

Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea are among the clubs to have joined forces and asked the British government to reconsider using neutral venues to play out the season, sources have told ESPN. 

Representatives of the 20 clubs joined a conference call on Monday to explore options for completing the 2019-20 campaign, a prospect given tentative approval by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as his government stated sport could be played behind closed doors from June 1.

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However, games could only be played if the coronavirus pandemic continues to subside and the league could ensure "avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact." 

That specifically refers to the prospect of fans gathering at matches if held in a traditional home and away format. The government has proposed that eight to 10 neutral venues are used for the remaining 92 games. 

Until Monday, only the clubs involved in a relegation fight had publicly stated their opposition to the move but sources have told ESPN several big clubs have united in asking government to abandon the plan. There are around 12 teams now in opposition. 

Talks are ongoing this week with Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, due to join governing bodies in a formal call on Thursday.

Although the integrity of competition has been argued, sources explained there are commercial and sponsorship pressures which have motivated the bigger clubs to raise their concerns.

Arsenal agreed a five-year extension to their shirt sponsorship deal with airline Emirates worth £200 million in February 2018.

That agreement included stadium naming rights and matchday sponsorship, all of which will be diminished if matches are not held at the stadium.

It also included the club using Emirates planes to fly on preseason tours but that is unlikely to happen this summer given the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

All clubs have sponsors that would suffer from an absence of matches at a ground where they advertise. Tottenham have enjoyed considerable matchday and commercial revenue growth, including a shirt-sponsorship deal with AIA worth £320m which also includes associated stadium advertising.

Chelsea's sponsors include an official global timekeeper and watch partner -- Hublot -- who would receive exposure inside Stamford Bridge both to broadcast cameras and supporters.

Similarly, beer company Singha sells around 330,000 pints inside the ground every season and while that revenue is lost with fans absent for some time to come, the agreement includes associated advertising on billboards during matches which would be visible to television cameras on matchdays.

The government's stance on neutral venues has been informed by guidance from police, who have expressed concerns about fans turning up outside grounds and insufficient security at some stadia.

Licences will be managed by the Safety Advisory Group which typically monitors such issues and all 20 clubs would have to meet stringent criteria to guarantee they can stage matches safely.

Talks are ongoing and the government has to balance a desire for football to return -- Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested last week "it would lift the spirit of the nation" -- with wider fears of a second peak in the pandemic and a possible drain on vital frontline emergency services.

Players also have a range of concerns including safety around group training -- due to begin next week -- and matches, which will form part of a discussion between the Professional Footballers' Association and the League Managers' Association on Wednesday.

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